Thursday, February 20, 2014

Record review: The Humminbird - 'Beyond the Orchard'

By Gene Wagendorf III 

A warmly unfolding autoharp breaks the silence, a kind of sacred sound usually reserved for moments of intense sorrow or intense worship, and it ripples and echoes with the slow strength of shifting earth. The chords swirl and fade angelically until their spell is split by the call of a wailing apparition. It's an almost romantic beckon, just slightly out of reach behind the repetition of the harp. Then it's gone, and the harp rings steadily and the atmosphere builds crystalline before thunder- a throng of fuzz and booming percussion blasts the ceremony. It's the joyously terrifying kind of hypnosis that allows you to be completely jarred without falling out of the daze. It's "White Porcelain," the opening song on Beyond the Orchard, the latest record from local psychedelic poet Muyassar Kurdi.

Kurdi is the force behind The Humminbird, a freak-folk project made up of at least Kurdi and often times a rotating cast of local psych and folk heavyhitters. This latest release finds the singer alone with her autoharp, conjuring up dreamy meditations drenched in mystery and sensuality. "Fill Me Up" opens with yet another almost holy riff, but sharper this time, and Kurdi's vocals are more familiar and clear. The juxtaposition of her seductive croon and the pseudo-religious vibe of her harp is a mesmerizing one, lending the song a kinky edge. That number's fade to silence gives way to the opening hum of "Drone," an appropriately-titled jam that soaks the listener in waves of thick, vibrating feedback. It's a patient, luring hum that feels both slightly sinister and yet a bit too comfortable. That ability to be both oppressive and tantalizing in their noise explorations helps set The Humminbird apart from many of their peers. Kurdi will take you to strange, uncomfortable places, but it's rarely a test of endurance and more often an entrancing voyage.

Things get stormy- in a good way- on "Dear Momma," a song that combines the enveloping sonics of "Drone" with the siren's desperation of "Porcelain." It builds from dreamy graveyard riffs to snarling whips of feedback with magnetic determination, the end result being both alarmingly turbulent and vibrantly affirming. "Don't Want Your Love" follows, and offers arguably the most beautiful and sincere piece of Beyond the Orchard. The song is a nice synthesis of some of Kurdi's likely influences, shoegazers Mazzy Star and the legendary Velvet Underground. Like Hope Sandoval's, Kurdi's voice rises and falls with graceful urgency, fluttering over ethereal harps and echoes. The instrumentation flexes and sighs perfectly, creating a dynamic, whimsical tension ala Nico-era VU.

Closing out the record is its title-track, "Beyond the Orchard." The song has a brooding, Nick Cave-ish swagger to it, thanks in no small part to a threatening beat laid down by drummer Jonathan Alvin. Kurdi pushes her vocals into slightly more traditional spaces, matching the drum's pace with her lyrics while still whipping up bursts of noise with her harp. The singer's mantra, let a flower grow, climaxes in a psych jam that showcases how brilliant a conductor of electricity Kurdi is.  It's the most captivating moment on Beyond the Orchard, and it does a fine job of leaving the listener dazed and wanting more.

'Beyond the Orchard' is available for purchase here. The Humminbird kicks off a spring tour with a Chicago show May 1st at Mortville. Listen to "Don't Want Your Love" and then check out the full tour details below. 

Humminbird Southeast Tour 2014

May 1- Chicago @ Mortville
May 2- Cincinnati @ The Comet 
May 3- Asheville @ MOUNTAIN PARTY 
May 4- Charlotte @ Milestone 
May 5- Greensboro @ TYP Haus
May 6- Athens @ Go Bar 
May 7- Macon @ Fresh Produce Records 
May 8- New Orleans @TBA
May 9- Memphis @ Lamplighter Lounge
May 10- Nashville @ Betty's 
May 11- St. Louis @ Revisionist Inn

Show review: Courtney Barnett at the Empty Bottle, 2/18/14

By Sarah Rosenfeld

Up and comer Aussie singer/songwriter and guitarist Courtney Barnett kicked off her short US tour Tuesday night with a sold out show at the Empty Bottle. Proving that she's worthy of the hype that has been building around her since the release of her double EP A Sea of Split Peas, Courtney Barnett brought her special brand of deadpan toned witticisms and breezy psych pop guitar riffs reminiscent of '60s era California to warm up a chilly Chicago evening. It was a late night, with Courtney playing after two openers including Chicago's own excessively talented post-punk psychedelic garage rockers Radar Eyes. Taking the stage around 11:45 p.m. and immediately launching into her song "David," Courtney strummed on her left-handed Fender sans pick, while nonchalantly singing "I don’t really like any of your friends, but it’s not that hard for me to pretend" as the crowd swayed along. The 40 minute set was solid and felt like plenty of material even though she only has the one double-EP.  

Courtney Barnett delivers pointed lyrics like "Do you know you’re no good at listening? But you’re really good at saying everything on your mind," with such a monotone ennui that you start to laugh a little and then say "...oh. Wait." Transitioning between her slower ambling songs and the more feedback heavy garage rock tunes was effortless for her and the band and the entire set was a pleasure to experience. There were a lot of people there singing along, especially with her most well known single "Avant Gardener" which brought an audible cheer from the crowd when she started strumming the first few hazy chords. Courtney and her band didn't bring too much stage banter although she did comment in her adorably heavy Australian accent "I can go home and tell my mum that someone threw a book onstage. That's a first." Looks like 2014 is going to be full of firsts for her including playing Coachella and various other summer festivals. If you missed this sold out show, Courtney Barnett is definitely worth catching if you can, so keep an eye on those festival announcements and be sure to get your tickets ahead of time for the next show. The buzz is legitimate with this one.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Video: The Orwells - 'The Righteous One'

By Frank Krolicki

Having a much buzzed about Letterman performance under their belt and a tour with the Arctic Monkeys underway, Chicago rockers The Orwells are keeping the flurry of activity going strong with the release of a new video for their track "The Righteous One."

The video was directed by Eddie O'Keefe (who was also behind their recent "Dirty Sheets" and "Who Needs You" videos) and offers another taste of what we can expect from their upcoming album to be released this summer.

Check it out below, and catch The Orwells live when they return home from the tour at their April 1st show at Lincoln Hall.